Why Can’t U.S. and China Just Get Along in Tianjin? Answer Is They Are

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TIANJIN, China — On Monday, two days after the UNFCCC climate conference ended after six days of grudging negotiation, the sky above this busy city turned blue, the sun appeared for the first time in a week, and Tianjin’s angled skyline, not visible previously in the thick smog, appeared like a gleaming glass and steel mountain range.

The beautiful warm day not only brought a fresh focus to just how earnest China is in building cities of the future, it also helped to clarify the outcomes of this nation’s first global climate gathering.

From the speeding bullet train that brought participants from Beijing to this city’s spotless train station, to the state-of-the art electric buses that transported them to and from the brilliant marble and glass conference center, to the advanced coal-fired power plant and lithium ion auto batteries being built within city boundaries, China is as serious as any nation in adding clean energy and energy efficient tools to its economic development strategy.

The second big lesson of these intercessional talks is that a good portion of China’s work in the clean energy economy is occurring in close cooperation with either the American government or American companies.

Beneath Bickering, Real Progress
So while China and the United States continued the diplomatic bickering over commitments each was making to limit climate-changing emissions, and how to measure progress, the story on the street is that both nations are kind of walking hand in hand toward the same goal.

But one partner seems more ready than the other to take the lead. The big difference, made plain last week here, is that China’s leadership has developed the world’s largest markets for wind and solar power and appears committed to the clean energy enterprise. Meanwhile the staying power of the United States has been weakened by the opposition party’s conviction that climate change is a myth, and its avowed goal to roll back federal investment in solar, wind, clean car, rail, and other clean energy initiatives advanced by the Obama administration.

Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC executive secretary, considered all of these competing trends and accurately declared the Tianjin conference a step forward. Negotiators completed a draft text to submit to the annual global climate summit that begins late next month in Cancun that, she said, defines “what is doable in Cancun and what will be left after Cancun.”

In the artful language of global negotiations that means negotiators here managed to push ahead a bit to resolve issues related to forest conservation, technology transfer, and financing for developing countries that could eventually lead to a global climate agreement.

Work Party Is Global Success
In the other big global climate story, tens of thousands of citizens from over 180 countries gathered in a giant global work party on Sunday to mark the second annual international demonstration for climate action. Days before the work party, which was organized by an alliance of groups, the White House announced it was installing new solar panels on the roof, the result of a concerted campaign to do so by Bill McKibben, the writer and 350.org leader.

One of the largest demonstrations occurred in Beijing where 30,000 students from 200 Chinese universities used the Global Work Party for a national call for climate solutions, marking the biggest show of youth environmental action in China’s history, said Paul Horsman, a leader of Tcktcktck.

“How do you say ‘thank you’ 7,347 times?” asked McKibben in a message sent to supporters. “People got to work yesterday in at least that many places around the world — the planet has never seen anything quite that widespread. Or quite that beautiful.”

— Keith Schneider

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Talk of Tianjin Climate Conference: China and U.S. Are Electrifying The Car

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TIANJIN, China – Whatever the differences that irked delegates from China and the United States during the six days of climate negotiations that ended here on Saturday, divisions principally defined by how each would control carbon emissions and measure progress, the unmistakable conclusion reached by most of the delegates and participants is how closely tied the two nations are to each the other.

Lying quietly below the nuanced diplomatic language of frustration and distrust expressed all week by Chinese and American negotiators is an expanse of cooperative projects in and outside government that are expressly designed to help China and the U.S. use energy more efficiently, develop new technology, and lower carbon emissions.

Participants this week toured an advanced coal-fired power plant that is being built by a consortium of Chinese companies and includes an American coal company. Chinese and American partnerships also are being forged in solar and wind manufacturing, and in carbon capture and sequestration emissions control technology. The two countries last year established a joint clean energy research center, with offices in China and the United States.beijing-train-station

Coda Electric Car
Another good example is how Coda Automotive, a California-based electric vehicle manufacturer, and Lishen Battery Company, a Tianjin-based manufacturer, are collaborating to build batteries in their joint venture factory for Coda’s all-electric cars for sale in the U.S. starting early next year. The powerful, 800-pound lithium-ion battery pack that will provide the Coda with a 100-mile range between charges, is being built and assembled in Lishen’s joint venture plant on the city’s south side.

The Coda’s drive train and electric engine are American designs built in factories in the U.S. The car’s safety systems were engineered by American and European experts and will be built by American companies. And a Chinese auto manufacturer will receive all of the various parts and assemble them under contract into new cars for shipment to the U.S. The company is planning to build a battery assembly plant in Ohio, where Coda’s chief executive, Kevin Czinger, was raised.

In his blog posts and various interviews in recent months Czinger has expressed his own frustration with energy and climate policy in the U.S. But that is not affecting his company, which he says will sell 14,000 cars in California next year. “The good news is that we can take action,” Czinger writes in his latest blog post. “We don’t need to wait for our leaders.  We can do what we do best –  take new ideas and new technology and create.  The electric car can be the driver of a new economic and energy system.  It can be the driver of a new American mindset and a revived manufacturing foundation.  Within a globally interdependent world that will have increasingly higher shipping costs, we can rebuild our car industry based on a new technology.  And we can replace our foreign oil with clean, secure and affordable electricity generated in America.  We can create a new prosperity for this century.  We have the choice. Now.”coda-electric-sedan

The Coda (see pix right) will be priced at around $45,000, and with federal and state electric vehicle and clean energy incentives, the off-the-lot cost will be closer to the low $30,000’s. Either way, neither the Coda, nor the other all-electric passenger cars making their way to the market – the Nissan Leaf and the Ford Focus – are priced low enough for sale in the world’s largest car market here in China.

Biggest Car Market and Big Oil Demand
Last year, China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s number one vehicle market, recording 13.5 million car and truck sales, according to the China Passenger Car Association. Manufacturers, by contrast, sold 10.43 million in the U.S., according to the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Michigan. This year vehicle sales in the U.S. could reach 11.6 million according to J.D. Power.

Sales in China in 2010 are expected to top 16 million units. Xu Changming, a research director at the State Information Center, told reporters in June that the number of vehicles in China could reach 78 million units, up from 63 million at the end of 2009, and surpassing Japan as the second largest nation for vehicle registrations. He also said the number of vehicles in China is expected to eventually rise to about 490 million units, though he did not offer a date for reaching that forecast.

A Coda executive on Saturday said that at the current sales pace China’s vehicle population could reach 200 million by the end of the decade, or roughly 60 million less than the number of vehicles in the U.S. this year.

Electric vehicles, of course, are a staple of transportation in China, though most of them are two- and three-wheel bikes, scooters, and carts fitted with small electric motors. The country manufactures state-of-the-art electric buses, a number of which were used to quietly transport climate negotiators and participants to and from the conference center and their hotels.

The country also is rapidly electrifying its high-speed rail network capable of transporting tens of thousands of passengers on trains, like the one that links Tianjin to Beijing (see pix below and right), capable of speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. According to Chinese NGO experts at the climate conference, China has built 4,000 miles of high speed rail and is in the process of constructing 6,000 more miles.

China, though, could use many more electric cars. Gas and diesel-fueled cars jam China’s highways and urban streets, and contribute to the smog in China’s major cities that is so thick (see pix above in Tianjin) it obscures the tops of buildings. The rapid rise in vehicle ownership also is challenging China’s economic security, just as it is in the United States. China’s oil consumption last year reached 8.625 million barrels a day, or 3.1 billion barrels annually, or nearly twice China’s consumption in 1999, according to the respected 2010 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. U.S. oil consumption is now just under 7 billion barrels annually, according to the Department of Energy.

China produces nearly 3.8 million barrels of oil daily from its own oil fields, which means that it imports 56 percent of its petroleum. That percentage will grow steadily higher. The demand for oil in China grew 539,000 barrels a day from 2008 to 2009, or nearly 7 percent. Meanwhile China’s oil production fell 111,000 barrels a day during the same period, or just under 3 percent.

— Keith Schneider

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Despite Divide Inside the Tianjin Climate Conference, China and U.S. Are Cooperating in Race To Deploy Advanced Coal Technology

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TIANJIN, China – Though Chinese workers this week celebrated the 61st anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China, a holiday season as significant as July 4 in the United States, a swarm of construction laborers at China’s GreenGen coal-fired gasification power plant were busy welding pipes, fitting massive joints, and bending steel for forms to be filled with concrete.

Since construction on the $1 billion project began in June 2009, said Li Liangshi, the deputy chief engineer, the dusty construction site has been a nonstop 24/7 hive of activity for 2,100 workers. Next year, the consortium of companies financing the project, five of them Chinese plus Peabody Coal, an American producer, plan to start operations.

GreenGen’s principle purpose is demonstrating advanced Chinese technology to burn coal much more efficiently than conventional power plants, remove many troubling air pollutants, and prove that its climate-changing carbon emissions can be safely captured. Much of the sequestered carbon will be pumped into oil wells to increase production in one of the China’s mature oil fields.

“China has a lot of coal,” said Deborah Seligsohn, the principal advisor of the World Resource Institute’s China Climate and Energy Program, who joined a Clean Air Task Force–USCAN-sponsored tour of the plant on Thursday.  “This project deals with efficiency and pollution abatement in a fairly clean way.”

Outside Stalled Negotiations, Promising Steps
This week the UN climate negotiations inside the expansive Meijiang Convention and Exhibition Center here have been stymied, in large part by a dispute between China and the United States about how the two countries take action to combat climate change and measure progress toward those ends.

Outside the closed negotiating sessions, though, a series of side events convened by NGOs and governments have detailed the progress, some of it quite impressive, that both countries are making to advance clean technology and energy efficiency that are intended to simultaneously build economic vibrancy while lowering carbon emissions. In some cases, Chinese and American companies are cooperating on clean energy and efficiency projects.

The trip to GreenGen illustrated both the competition and cooperation between China and the U.S. to develop the tools and technology to burn coal more efficiently, and to safely dispose of its dangerous emissions. In terms of investment and the number of projects, the U.S. and China are both working to perfect the technology, design and deploy the equipment, and command the potential multi-billion dollar annual market for what both countries call “clean coal” power, but more accurately can be called “advanced coal.”

GreenGen will test gasification technology developed by China’s Thermal Power Research Institute (TPRI). TPRI has licensed the gasification technology deployed at GreenGen to Houston-based Future Fuels LLC. Future Fuels plans to use the technology at its Good Spring IGCC project in Pennsylvania, which it expects will deliver 270-megawatts of electricity while capturing over 50 percent of the CO2 output initially and nearly 100 percent by 2020.

Coal in the China, U.S. Path To Lower Carbon Future
Coal’s influence in both countries on climate change is significant. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported last year that coal combustion at American utilities accounts for 2.7 billion tons of the roughly 6 billion tons of annual U.S. carbon emissions. In rapidly developing China, coal accounts for 80 percent of the 6.3 billion tons of carbon emissions, or about a quarter of all the climate-changing emissions globally.

Both governments, along with utilities and manufacturers see the need to reduce coal’s influence on global warming, and an opportunity to build economic strength in reaching that goal. Last November, during a trip to China, President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao formally announced the establishment of a joint Clean Energy Research Center to collaborate on the science and development of low-carbon energy, and to cooperate specifically on generating energy from coal with much less pollution. In March, Steven Chu, the American secretary of energy, announced that over the next five years the Energy Department would invest $37.5 million in the joint center to support research conducted at a facility in the U.S. and another in China.

The United States, according to the Department of Energy, also is spending $3.4 billion to leverage $8 billion more in private investments to build a national array of plants that demonstrate CCS technology, and that showcase new combustion techniques.

Advanced Coal Projects
They include the $1 billion U.S. investment, just announced in September, for FutureGen, to build a high-tech oxygen equipped coal boiler unit to an existing 200-megawatt unit at an American Energy Resources plant in Meredosia, Illinois, and then deploy CCS technology to sequester the carbon emissions. The DOE also just approved a $308 million investment in a $2.8 billion Kern County, California plant to develop cleaner combustion technology and carbon sequestration techniques. Other investments include $350 million toward a $1.7 billion a state of the art integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant with carbon emissions directed to producing more oil in old wells in Texas, and $36 million for a $2.15 billion IGCC plant in Minnesota. Private IGCC plants are under development in Indiana and Pennsylvania as well, and the Duke Power plant in Indiana is testing CCS storage techniques.

According to a recent study by the Brookings Institution U.S. and Chinese companies are collaborating on a number of projects. In August 2009, Duke Energy signed a memorandum of understanding with Huaneng for developing renewable and clean energy technologies. In September 2009, Southern Company and KBR Inc. agreed to license their IGCC technology to the Beijing Guoneng Yinghua Clean Energy Engineering Company. Peabody Coal is an investor in the GreenGen project. Huaneng joined the FutureGen Industrial Alliance.

Here in Tianjin, the GreenGen project is at the head of a pack of Chinese power plants designed to burn coal more efficiently and to develop and prove CCS techniques. China has built over 20 supercritical and ultra-supercritical power plants that operate at extremely high water temperatures and pressures that produce much higher efficiencies, producing more power with less coal, and thus lower emissions per megawatt of power generated.

According to the World Resources Institute, China has developed and approved seven major energy projects to demonstrate CCS techniques, and to develop more efficient energy generating practices. They include the 845-megawatt Huaneng Gaobeidian Co-Generation plant in Beijing, the first in China to fully test CO2 capture, and features a full suite of environmental controls. During winter months, steam from the plant is used for district heating, and efficiency can be has high as 84 percent. Engineers estimate the plant uses about 400,000 tons less coal annually than a similarly-sized conventional plant.

GreenGen Could Be Big Step
GreenGen represents the next step in China’s drive for higher efficiency and lower pollution in generating power from coal. When the first of three phases opens next year, GreenGen will be the first utility-scale IGCC power plant in China, and one of the few operating in the world.

When fully operational in 2014, Chinese officials assert, Greengen will generate 650-megawatts at 60 percent to 80 percent efficiency – about twice the efficiency of conventional coal-fired power plants – and dispose of its climate-changing emissions through carbon capture and storage technology.

If the plant is a success, said Jiang Kejun, a director of research for the Energy Research Institute, a unit of the National Development and Reform Commission, China is prepared to build 20 more such gasification and CCS power plants. “We want to make sure it works,” he said.

— Keith Schneider

Greengem advanced coal plant - Tianjin